erhui1979 /
26 March 2018GeneticsDiana Jungmann

Access to genetic resources and the global bioeconomy

In recent years the bioeconomy has emerged as a knowledge-driven concept aimed at meeting many of today’s challenges. The concept offers to the world a new paradigm for long-term sustainable development and growth. The challenges to this concept are related to population increase and aging, to rises of income per capita, to demand and supply expansion for food, healthcare, energy and drinking water, and to matters of climate change.

The vision of establishing this new economic paradigm became possible as the result of a rapid increase in the opportunities offered by the innovative revolution in the field of biological sciences. The core of the bioeconomy’s successful delivery is directly connected to research, development (R&D) and innovations of biological processes in many industrial sectors.

This article focuses on the relationship of advances in global bioeconomy and the multilateral regulatory framework connected to genetic resources (GRs) access. The subject matter of traditional knowledge is not covered and the article does not intend to present opinion on policy or related political questions and aims solely to contribute to the discussion by adding a different angle to the complexity of the challenges that lies ahead.

The development of a sustainable bioeconomy requires a joint multistakeholder effort and international partnership. Meeting the challenge on a global scale demands shared knowhow and strategic planning, and most important of all, the engagement of governments, the business sector, academia and civil society. With positive attitudes, an appropriate regulatory framework, continuous and adequate investment in R&D and in talented people, innovation finds its way towards delivering critical and substantial results.

The establishment of a strong and coherent political agenda for bioscience should foster good governance practices and international cooperation, so that biotechnological innovations can be translated in new and better services and products, benefiting various aspects of human existence.

According to BioSTEP, an EU-funded project to promote a public dialogue, several countries have taken a step further and developed bioeconomy strategies. A total of 50 different official documents are listed embracing transnational, regional and national approaches. As one can expect, the strategies differ, sometimes considerably, in priorities, range, content and implementation, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, showing common weaknesses and gaps.

However, they also share issues regarding the commitment to make the bioeconomy stronger worldwide, signalling a positive way forward.

Language for the 21st century

If the bioeconomy points toward a new and more sustainable paradigm for global development and growth, one can consider that life science has become the main language for the 21st century. According to Juan Enriquez (2013): “The basis of the bioeconomy depends on an advanced understanding of genes and of complex cellular processes, the use of renewable biomass and the multi-sectorial integration of applied biotechnology.”

As information and communication technologies (ITC) were the game-changer for the 20th century, the world again has entered a massive revolution, this time having life sciences playing the leading role. According to Enriquez: “We are living in an era of rapid change where humans already understand not just how life is coded (genomes), but also how to copy this life code (cloning) and most recently, how to edit the code. Because we can clone, and we are developing standardised editing and assembly techniques, the world fundamentally changes.”

Now humans can begin to programme cells, and once the right formula is found it can be reproduced time and again making a broad range of products. The wealth of innovative products already available or being developed by life sciences impacts sectors from cosmetics to textiles, from food and animal feed to fuels, from pharma to construction. Such advances mean the life code is beginning to permeate, to alter, to drive ever more economic fields. This is reality and not science fiction.

Intricate regulatory system

If the bioeconomy is directly connected to the ability to access and engineer genetic material (life codes), the link can be established with the regulatory framework that requires compliance and enforcement in life sciences. Thus, it is worth casting a beacon of light in these particularly interconnected multilateral systems that play a key role in promoting or preventing the fast pace of innovation in the bioeconomy:

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